About language and an anecdote

Moussa has just asked me a weird question. And I really did not know how to answer. Do you guys happen to know what a “Makari” – مكاري – is in Arabic? It happens to signify the guy who rents donkeys.


Yes.. not the guy who rides, or owns, or sells, or even buys, but the guy who ‘rents’ donkeys!

Can you get me a more specialized language than that? There is not a doubt that Arabic is a very precise language. I’ll give you an example, how can you translate “passion” in Arabic? I have a passion for something. You basically can’t… That’s too much of a general statement, and Arabic likes people who are precise. A passion for what? Is it a hobby? then it’s hiwaya. Is it love for the opposite sex? than it is 3oshq. etc. Let’s give an economic example. What does “interest” mean in Arabic? Again at least 5 different words either having to do with work, hobby, etc.

Another point I’d like to make. A signifier in a language are (and change in function of) the historically determined construction of a society, its economic modes of production, its political and social institutions etc. So I ask myself where does this precision come from? Messick argues that the various texts and traditions making up the Shari’a have the most sophisticated theory of contract without any explicit mention of a precise wording for private property. Another thing Messick says is that round narrowed and homogeneous legal concepts like “human rights” “citizenship” “private property” are a peculiarity of European recent institutional discursive development. The Shari’a in its loose and fluid nature manage to elaborate much more sophisticated concepts because they are never named by one single self-contained word-signifier. But in the age of the nation-state, the systematic accumulation of capital, and techno-scientific development, the more artistic and virtuoso type of legal framework and describer of reality tend to have a hard time adjusting.

Probably one of the reasons why Arabic societies were so porous and vulnerable to colonialist penetration and probably why effective resistance is the one that clinched on the paradigmatic text (as Messick would call the Koran), and other entrenched signifiers. Those commonly called “the Islamists”.

Update1: Moussa just explained to me where did he come up with the word Makari. If any of you watched the imperturbable Berri yesterday with this scumbag Marcel Ghanem he would have heard him answering to the accusations of severely disturbed Walid Jumblatt that “wealthy Shi’as” are buying up land in the south. When Ghanem said that it is Farid Makari (vice president of parliament) who makes these accusations, Berri quite enigmatically answered: “yeah, he would know, he’s the Makari!”
So Moussa rushed to the dictionary to see what it could possibly mean and this is what he could find…

Update2: After listening the third time to the interview, this morning on the radio (yes Moussa is a dilettante home squatter having nothing to do else than listening to the pearls of wisdom of Lebanese politicians), and after exchanging ten emails on the subject, we ended up concluding that this was not what exactly happen yesterday on Kalam el Naas. Actually Makari was referring to Berri’s initiative. Berri launches every once and a while an initiative that calls for compromise, positioning himself as the eternal moderator. Seriously, I remember at least three initiatives of the same kind in the past two years only. Well, one thing is sure the rest of the Lebanese are barking so loud behind their respective fences that one could understand the humanistic drives of Berri. But anyway, that is not the point. Makari qualified Berri’s initiative as a “Bay3et Massa”.
Now here is another linguistic curiosity. This time an expression emanating from the spoken. “Bay3et massa” refers to the vegetables you sell at night, when they are already a bit damaged by the day. It is an expression that means that what one presents as a good is already kind of rotten. To which Berri answered famously: “Sure he knows this stuff, he’s the Makari!”
Do you get it?


2 Replies to “About language and an anecdote”

  1. now i noticed that LBC lists Ghanem’s name as مرسال and not مارسيل . could it be that his name is the Arabic Mirsal and not the French Marcel?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s